Showing posts with label soil gnats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soil gnats. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What's Bugging Your Plants And How To Solve The Problem

Winter has set in for the long haul and if you live in Canada or the Northern United States, the plants you brought indoors for the winter months are probably showing some signs of distress.

Why does that happen and what can you do about it? 

Simply put, your indoor space as nice as it may be, is not the "great outdoors".  All gardeners wish they could just bring the summer inside so that they can survive those crazy cold winter months.  Alas, that is not possible.  We all have some plants that we love and want to "overwinter" in our homes.  I know I have a few that I just love and I always start early in the fall to get these favorites ready for their move indoors.


Olivia's Brugmansia

This is my all time favorite flower.  It is really more like a tree and in the southern states it grows to be as big as a tree.  Here in the north, with proper care it can also become quite large, but keeping a plant this big indoors over the winter months is not an easy task.  So I prepare early to bring in cuttings from this amazing plant.  It roots easily in water and once the cuttings have a good root system I plant the cutting in soil and bring that indoors.  You can also go through the process of keeping these in a cool cellar over the winter months, but that is another whole process.  I find it easier to keep just a few cuttings and watching them grow ever so slowly in the winter.  

What's the biggest problems with keeping plants indoors over the winter?

There are really three problems that will cause plants to decline over the winter months.
  1. Light, not enough of it.
  2. Water, too much of it.
  3. Pests, hitchhikers that you didn't expect to give a home to.
Today we are going to discuss the "Hitchhikers"!

There are six common pests that can attack indoor plants and most often they hitchhike in the soil.  They may be dormant for a little while, but once January comes around they seem to explode on the scene.  Let's find out more!

The six pests are:
  1. aphids
  2. soil gnats
  3. scale insects
  4. white flies
  5. spider mites
  6. mealy bugs

There are a few pests that can literally take over in a matter of a few days.  In the summer months when the plant is outdoors, it has the advantage of natural pest controls.  Ladybugs, praying mantis and just better growing conditions can make these pests less of a problem.  Once indoors the natural controls are no longer there.  Additionally, if you bring in the plant with it's soil from outdoors, you are probably giving the hitchhikers a first class ride into their winter residence as well.

Whenever you bring a plant from the outdoors in, you should take steps to make sure the pests are not coming in with them.  There are several ways to do this.  One is to drench the soil with neem oil products (natural and organic controls).  Spray the leaves and undersides especially to knock off the aphids and wipe out any eggs.  Or you can take cuttings that will be rooted and planted in fresh soil.  

If you notice a plant not doing well, leaves that are falling off, discolored leaves, tips that are browning and not growing, you know you have a problem.
The next step is to isolate the plant (most pests will gladly jump from one plant to another if they are in close proximity), and seek out information on what kind of problem you have.  Some of these pests are easy to find if you know what to look for.  Others might be a little harder, but you can get help if you need it from a reliable nursery.  Bring in the plant, or a leaf and see if they can help you identify the pest, then you can also purchase what you need to help control or get rid of your "problem" before it becomes an all out infestation.

Most people know about aphids, controlling them is rather easy.  You must be consistent but a good blast of water will dislodge aphids and within a few weeks your problem should be over.  Every three days check your plant, if you see aphids, get them into the shower and give them a good hard spray with lukewarm water.  Wash them all down the drain.  Keep your plant segregated until you see no more signs of aphids.  

Soil gnats are not really a "problem pest" in that they won't kill your plant.  They are rather annoying though.  When you disturb the plant, you will see little black flies come out of the ground and fly around and then go back into the ground.  Water your plants with neem oil added to their water and keep the soil on the dry side until you no longer see these little flies.  Over watering is one of the biggest mistakes made when bringing plants indoors.

Scale insects are much more difficult.  They are sneaky and if you don't know what to look for, you will miss them completely.  Scale insects like to hid under leaves and in the meeting of stem and leaf.  They can also attach to flowering stems.  One of my orchids has a scale problem and what set me to find this was a stickiness on the leaves.  This stickiness is from the scale excreting honeydew after sucking the plant juices.  Scale look like little bumps on a stem or leaf and can look like part of the plant.  If you scratch the edges of the scale, you will find it will lift off of the plant.  The easiest way to get control of scale insects is with rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip or cotton ball.  The rubbing alcohol will damage the scales outer shell and expose the bug for removal.  It is important to watch a plant with scale as they will suck the life right out of the plant in short order.  Check the plant weekly and remove any scale using this method.  
Scale insects on leaf and stem. (Picture from WikiCommons)

White flies are also a nuisance.  They attack the undersides of the leaves of many plants.  They also multiply readily, so an infestation is quite possible in a few days time.  Like aphids the best way to keep these under control is to knock them off with a good spray of water.  Do this every 2 to 3 days and then treat the soil with neem oil so that any eggs that may have fallen into the soil will die.  You can also purchase Yellow Sticky traps for these pesky white flies.  They seem to be attracted to the yellow color.

Spider mites as their name implies are very much like spiders, but they are tiny(almost microscopic) and you could need a magnifying glass in order to see them.  What you might see before you actually see the bugs, is a webbing all over the ends of the plant stems.  Imagine tent caterpillars in miniature.  The effect is similar.  When you see those webs all over the plant you will have to get that plant into the shower and wash them off.  Again the undersides of the leaves and the ends of the plant are favorite spots for this pest.  

Mealy Bugs like scale are harder to control and require that you actively search your plants for their presence.  They like the scale have a hard outer shell that will keep them firmly attached to the plant.  Using rubbing alcohol will dislodge them and kill them as well.  

If you want to know more about houseplant pests a great website is from Colorado State and you can find it right here!  They also have some great pictures of these pests if you want to know what they look like or you are not sure if what you are seeing is a pest or not.

I personally have a great collection of Rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs and cotton balls for my houseplants.  Once a month I water all of my plants with Neem Oil added to the water as a preventative measure to keep my plants happy.  Spring and Summer are on their way, but until then, keep a close eye on your favorite plants.  Make sure that no pests will spoil your indoor gardening period.

For your convenience I have included my must haves for over-wintering my favorite plants and keeping them healthy until they can go back outside again in Late Spring and Summer.  Hope this helps you keep your favorite plants happy too!










Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.


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